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OPINION: £40 Mario paints a gloomy picture for 3DS's digital dream

Do it properly or not at all, argues Andy Robinson...

After years putting up with fiddly Friend Codes and a half hearted approach to online gaming, it's exciting that Nintendo is finally set to embrace the digital market this week with the release of New Super Mario Bros. 2 as both a day-one download and traditional boxed product.

Or at least it was exciting, until we discovered the £39.99 price tag tucked at the bottom of a press release this morning - £10 more than the cost of a boxed version.

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Indeed, the digital version of New Art Academy will set you back £29.99, a fiver more than it will in-store, and a Freakyforms Deluxe download will cost £24.99, versus £19.99 at retailers.

For a distribution method that bypasses pricey processes such as packaging and distribution, it might seem baffling that Nintendo's opted not to pass on those savings to us, the customers. It should be baffling, but it's not.

Premium price tags for full game downloads have become the worrying norm among the big three; you only need to cast a cursor across the various console download offerings to see that not only are the platform holders not really competing with the likes of Steam and the App Store - they're being left behind.

At the time of writing a download version of Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes costs a straight-up £39.99 on PSN (it's half-price £19.99 on Steam), while games such as Red Faction: Armageddon have been known to launch at closer to £60. Of course these downloads can't be resold either, further decreasing value.

Xbox Live performs a little better, with April release Prototype 2 currently available for £29.99 and older titles such as Portal 2 at £19.99, but its library is nearly always a year out of date.

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It goes without saying that in the modern-day pool of accessible, digital entertainment, such prices are out of line with what consumers consider good value - and in a years time when we start talking about next-gen consoles they'll seem even more archaic.

The major platform holders are frankly doing a pretty poor job of convincing their customers to go digital, but when they still have to answer to physical shops that's hardly surprising at all.

Unlike PC gaming's digital distribution giants, the likes of Nintendo still rely hugely on high street retailers to shift their physical hardware, without which they wouldn't sell many games - download or not.

To console manufacturers, undercutting these physical outlets would seem like commercial suicide; retailers make their profits from shifting software and in the current climate there's huge pressure not to fiddle with the established model.

But in appeasing the high street the likes of Nintendo ultimately risk losing the consumer; cut-price, accessible entertainment has never been in more readily available supply, and the emergence of the App Store - whether it's considered in direct competition with the 3DS or not - is changing consumers' buying habits.

To swing the balance and finally offer fair digital prices, Nintendo needs to betray the established retail model, which would represent a big gamble for the Japanese firm.

Until then there's no easy answer, and without Steam-like price cuts it looks like the 3DS's digital offerings aren't going to represent the brave shift we once hoped for.

When Nintendo announced earlier this year it planned to release digital downloads of all its major releases alongside traditional boxed versions, I was personally thrilled at such a bullish move from the traditionally conservative house of Mario.

Now I'm sadly convinced the bull is actually the same old tame cow, with a set of plastic horns on.

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